Hatta: Just as horseracing has its horses for courses, road cycling has expert riders for each team to handle the respective stages.
Caleb Ewan only substantiated the claim as he proved himself to be the king of the Hatta climb yet again as the 168km Dubai Municipality Stage 2 of UAE Tour played out over an undulating route that started in Hatta, crossed the Hajar mountains and turned back from Fujairah for a gutsy uphill finish at Hatta Dam.
The final 3km were perhaps the hardest and a crushing steep climb with a gradient of nearly 17 degrees making things tougher for the riders.
The Australian had won at Hatta last year when this particular route had been scheduled as Stage 4. With a determined push in the final 100 metres, the Lotto Soudal rider again reigned supreme after giving everything to snatch victory from Deceuninck-QuickStep’s Sam Bennett approximately 50 metres from the finish.
Bennett had tried to break away in the final 150 metres, but an alert Ewan was quick to pounce and made gains every time he swayed left to right in a bid to generate power. Bennett rode in two seconds behind Ewan’s 4:18:18, with Groupama-FDJ’s Arnaud Demare a further two behind after edging out UAE Team Emirates’ Diego Ulissi to take third.
Ulissi said later: “It was mainly a relaxed day in the peloton. Obviously with the steep finish at Hatta Dam it made it more complicated in the closing kilometres. It was a finish that suited the really explosive riders and I think I did well. We were all in a great position coming into the bottom and I jumped from the bottom of the climb and ended up just off the podium. I’m feeling good and it bodes well for the rest of the week.”
Ewan took over the leaderboard and the General Time Classification and General Points Classification leaders’ Red and Green jerseys from Stage 1 winner Pascal Ackermann, who dropped out of the top 10. His overall time is 7:47:19 with Bennett second at 7:47:31 and Demare third with 7:47:35.
Vini Zabu’ KTM’s Veljko Stojnic surrendered the Young Rider classification’s White jersey to Gazprom Rusvelo’s Nikolai Cherkasov, but maintained his hold on the Intermediate Sprint classification’s Black jersey, where he leads teammate Leonardo Tortomasi 29-21 with Cherkasov in third with eight points.
In the General Points race, Ewans has 36, with Stojnic and Tortomasi in at second and third with 29 and 21, respectively. David Gaudu of Groupama FDJ and Tadej Pogacar of UAE Team Emirates are behind Cherkasov in the Young Riders classification.
Ewan said a patient approach to the final 3 kms of the race made him feel more confident he would win. “I’m so happy with that win. I could have gone from the bottom too but I knew it was better to wait a few seconds, because those last 20-30 metres are where you can really win the race and that’s what I did,” Ewan said.
“If you blow there, you can lose so much time. I knew how long I could go for, I timed my sprint really well and was able to accelerate all the way to the line.”
1. Caleb Ewan (AUS) Lotto Soudal 4h18’18”
2. Sam Bennett (IRL) Deceuninck-Quickstep +0:02
3. Arnaud Demare (FRA) Groupama-FDJ) +0:04
4. Diego Ulissi (ITA) UAE Team Emirates s.t
General Classification Results
1. Caleb Ewan (AUS) Lotto Soudal 7h47’18”
2. Sam Bennett (IRL) Deceuninck-Quickstep +0:12
3. Arnaud Demare (FRA) Groupama-FDJ +0:16
— The writer is a sports journalist based in UAE